Monday, December 14, 2009

Best and worst of the decade: Top 10 bonehead broadcasting decisions and trends of the oughts

The oughts. That seems to be what everyone is calling the decade that's about to end.

Highly appropriate, as the past ten years have pretty much been a zero as far as the broadcasting industry is concerned.

We've seen the biggest changes in the history of the business, bigger than when we went from film to video, from tape-to-tape to non-linear. TV News will never be the same, and if anyone is trying to predict what it will look like in the next ten years, well, fuhgeddaboudit.

Meanwhile, time to look back at the decade, and we're going to start with the worst decisions of the past ten years.

1. Embrace the Internet

Yes, you may love the Internet, but it is the main reason the business has taken such a hit. This big bonehead decision surfaced around 2000, and has been more damaging than Y2K. (Remember that?) Back when we first heard this directive from beancounters and corporate empty suits, the most common reaction was, "So let me get this straight... you want us to tell viewers to turn off their TV sets and turn on their computers?" Well, yeah. Problem was, the stuff on the computers was free. Had those in charge made TV viewing on a computer a subscription based operation from the beginning, appointment television would still exist. People would still tune in for the free 6 o'clock news rather than spend a buck to watch it later on a computer. But the horse is out of the barn, and it isn't going to be coaxed back in.

2. Promote the other network

Huh? Why would we do this? Well, turns out your network or local station probably does it all the time. Are you something other than a Fox affiliate yet watch your anchors talk endlessly about American Idol? Oh, now you get it. Years ago this stuff would get an anchor fired, but now it seems fine to basically promote another station that might be airing a watercooler show. The boneheads in this case are the NDs who allow this to go on.

3. The Chicken Little weather philosophy

This country got seriously whacked by a ton of hurricanes this past decade, and it set in motion the trend of trying to one-up the competition. Years ago if Mother Nature was brewing up something bad, you'd get a non-intrusive weather crawl. Now entertainment programming is filled with endless squeezebacks, ear splitting sounders preceding crawls, and break-ins for weather watches instead of warnings. Personally, I love the stations that carry "Who wants to be a Millionaire" and run their crawls or radar over the answers. (Apparently it would take someone from NASA to put the crawl over the top of the screen.) As one ND put it, "it makes entertainment programming unwatchable." The desire to get on first with hurricane stuff is out of control, with break-ins now preceding storms by five days. And wall to wall coverage has deteriorated into calls from yahoo viewers talking about the wind blowing as the hurricane fades away.

4. The one man band comes to big markets

Call it backpack journalism, multi-media journalism, or any other euphemism, it's still beancounter news designed to cut costs while throwing quality out the door.

5. Filling the newscast with Internet video

It's bad enough to cover non-stories, but stations are now taking whatever is the hot video of the day off the Internet and broadcasting it as a story. For some reason it is usually someone robbing a convenience store. Yes, there's funny and interesting stuff on places like YouTube, but putting it in a newscast is just lame and shows the world your staff can't dig up real stories.

6. Bias becomes acceptable

A friend of mine who has worked in the business for a long time calls 2008, "The year journalism died." Never before has bias, which ran both left and right, been so acceptable. If you want to know why the general public trusts journalists about as much as Congress, look no further.

7. Live shots take precedence over everything

Wonder why your package looks so lame? Maybe if you didn't have to do live shots all day with teases thrown in you'd actually have time to put together a decent story. Live shots haven't fooled the public for a long time, especially when you do them in your late newscast from the location of a story that ended several hours ago. Not really a new trend, but it got much worse this decade.

8. Including part of a newscast from a central location.

Ever see one of those out of market segments in which the anchor or weatherperson mispronounces just about every local town or name incorrectly? That's what you get when you outsource part of your news to a central location. This doesn't fool viewers either.

9. The death of the kicker

These days every newscast closes with yet another weather forecast, even though the viewer has just seen one ten minutes ago. Kickers used to be a significant part of a newscast, the thing that kept viewers sticking around till the end. For those of you who can check your ratings in 15 minute segments, check the last half of your newscast and you'll see your viewers bailing in droves.

10. The death of local sports

Not totally dead yet but headed in that direction. Blame the consultants for this bonehead decision, as they'll tell you sports fans get their sports from ESPN. Well, I'm a huge sports fan and I don't as I can't stand a smart comment every single sentence. Local people may follow national teams, but they want local sports.

11. The graveside vulture interview

(Yeah, I know the article calls for the top 10 decisions, but I had to get this one in.) The practice of shoving a microphone in someone's face at a funeral is just another tasteless line that was crossed with more frequency this past decade. I keep waiting for a reporter to get a punch in the mouth from a grieving widow. And the reporter would deserve it. May the NDs who allow this be buried under a circus tent.

Next up, the best things of the decade. (And I'll be hard pressed to find 10.)

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